Don't attach too much authority to tweets

Within minutes of the helicopter accident in the North Sea last night the first reports of the incident were reverberating around the globe on Twitter, the internet short messaging phenomenon.

Mixed in with reports from individuals were ‘tweets’ from conventional news organisations providing links to their own news coverage of the unfolding drama.

This immediacy and worldwide reach can be an asset. But it can also be a concern.

Last night, in the midst of all the reports and updates, came a tweet from someone stating “20 feared dead” in the helicopter accident.

It takes little imagination to recognise the effect that apparent ‘news’ could have on concerned relatives.

While conventional news organisations exercise great care when verifying grave news, there is no such control on Twitter.

We are indeed fortunate that the two big incidents that have been reported by citizen reporters on Twitter – the US Airways crash on the Hudson River a month ago and now the helicopter accent in the North Sea – have had remarkably positive outcomes with no fatalities.

But we need to be clear that – as with anything with open access on the web – we need to be careful we do not attach to much reliability to the information unless we know the source.

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